National Poetry Month Day 23: Nathan McClain


Nathan McClain is the author of Scale (Four Way Books, 2017), the 2017 Gregory Pardlo Scholar, and a recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and The Frost Place. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in American Poets, Hunger Mountain, The Southeast Review, Broadsided, and Tinderbox. A Cave Canem fellow, he teaches creative writing at Drew University.


Aubade Ending with a Pacemaker

It’s so easy, from the hotel’s twelfth floor,
to see the sheet of ice splinter, then drift

like continents on the river. From this height,
the snow flurries, doesn’t seem to fall at all. Maybe

it’s the trucks delivering meat (packed
in salt, I imagine), gliding slowly along

that make me think back on the La Brea
Bakery truck driver whose heart quit

at the intersection of Melrose and Western.
Paramedics listened to his chest. Blew

and blew into his mouth before he was wound
to a stretcher, rushed away—the truck, all

its freshly baked baguettes, left and, I was almost
certain, stolen. Who knows

if anything can really be saved? Not you
or me. Not the heart—unreliable

little engine it is. It shouldn’t be a surprise
when I say, “the La Brea Bakery truck driver,”

that I’m thinking of you.


Boy Pulling a Thorn from His Foot

Small enough
to cradle. Caught
in the act of concentration,

you see it, chiseled there,
his bronze body curled into
a question

mark, not pulling,
rather, about to pull,
the thorn finally out.

Nothing original here.
Nothing new.
Marble, quartz—the old

masters have, for ages now,
sculpted this scene—you’ve seen
it—and here you

are, looking.
Again the little boy.
Again his insistent

grief. So what
some exhibits in the museum
have already gone

dark? So what
others have moved on
to new rooms? Left

you comfortless,
with your notepad
and pen. And what

have you learned from
standing here so long
examining pain? No

matter how ancient.
What good
has it done you?

The thorn, thrumming
still. He almost
has it now. So close.

Step back, the guard
warns, his one job
to enforce the distance

necessary, which might be called
perspective, though
not yet.

Original poetry published by The Rumpus. More from this author →